PUBLISHED: 09:35 08 February 2008 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013
Antonio and Susanne Viscariello La Toscana in Billericay
TUCKED away in Old Barn Court, just off the High Street in Billericay's bustling town centre, La Toscana is a traditional Italian restaurant run by husband and wife team Antonio and Susanne Viscariello, writes Stephanie Mackentyre.
The couple obviously adore the restaurant and have a great team working with them. The dishes are traditional Italian cuisine - no overpowering sauces and stodgy pizza here - with only the freshest cuts of prime meats, just-caught fish from Billingsgate and the finest homemade pasta to delight diners.
Antonio's inspiration comes from his passion for the ingredients and the combinations he can create. On rare days off, Tony and Suzanne spend time with daughter Ginevra, 8, and both enjoy the great outdoors. Antonio adds: 'Each year I say I will play more golf, but it never happens.'
The couple's very first restaurant was purchased back in 1999 which they sold in 2001 before moving to Billericay and opening La Toscana. In March 2007 they opened their third restaurant, La Vista in Gt Baddow. Suzanne now bases herself at La Vista and Antonio at La Toscana.
Fresh ingredients are sourced locally but the all-important olive oil, Parma ham, dried herbs and Parmesan come directly from Italy, where UK-born Antonio spent his formative years.
For our lunch, Antonio prepared funghi ripieni, flat mushrooms topped with roasted peppers, and red onions baked in the oven with goats' cheese, plus the Viscariello family recipe pesto, all topped with fresh rocket salad. Just the very best mix of flavours entwined, each distinctive but allowing room for each ingredient to come to the fore.
There's a real family atmosphere at La Toscana, the dishes are cooked to order and there's none of the pretentiousness sometimes coupled with a restaurant of this standing. Its just good honest food with a great ambiance. No wonder diners regularly return and become firm friends.
For our main course we enjoyed Merluzo Italiano, crisp, ruby red Parma ham surrounding a meaty portion of the freshest white cod fillet, covered in sun-dried tomato paste then baked in the oven and complemented with asparagus spears and a lemon mayonnaise.
Just when I thought Antonio's culinary talents couldn't be improved upon, he brought out the creamiest panacotta dessert with a raspberry coulis served with fresh raspberries on the side - a perfect end to what was a thoroughly enjoyable lunch.